TV TRANSFUSION goes to THE GOOD PLACE
Television Review by L.L. Soares
This week, let’s play a little game of channel surfing and I’ll discuss a few shows I’ve been watching lately.
THE GOOD PLACE
(Now airing Thursday nights at 8:30pm EST on NBC)
I’ve been a fan of Kristen Bell since her days as teenage detective VERONICA MARS (2004 – 2007), but I wasn’t much of a fan of her Showtime series HOUSE OF LIES (2012 – 2016) starring Don Cheadle as the head of a consulting firm that is up to shenanigans in the business world. I didn’t really like the show or the characters, and felt that Cheadle and Bell deserved better.
Then I heard that Ms. Bell had a new show called THE GOOD PLACE, a comedy about the afterlife. It didn’t sound too promising to me, and I was expecting just another lame network comedy, but because I’m a Bell fan, I decided to give it a chance, and I was pleasantly surprised. THE GOOD PLACE is actually a funny, smart show that is above-average for a network comedy. Bell plays Eleanor Shellstrop, who has recently died and wakes up to find herself in “The Good Place,” which is run by an amiable dude named Michael, played by Ted Danson. It doesn’t take long for Eleanor to realize that she does not belong in this heavenly place, and is not worthy of staying there. She also finds out that because of the mistake that brought her there, the equilibrium of the Good Place is thrown off and weird things keep happening like flying shrimp and giant fissures that swallow up restaurants.
Eleanor confides her dilemma to the man chosen as her “soul mate” here, Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), who was an ethics professor when he was “alive” back on Earth. Chidi agrees to keep Eleanor’s secret, and to coach her on how to behave in a good way that will make her more worthy of being a resident of “The Good Place.” Eleanor’s friends in this place also include Tahani (Jameela Jamil), a socialite who lived in the shadow of her more famous sister on Earth, and Jianju (Manny Jacinto) a Buddhist monk who has taken a vow of silence, and has a pretty big secret of his own.
Another standout character is D’Arcy Carden as Janet, an A.I. who works for Michael and who is like the embodiment of Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, and the residents of the Good Place can call upon her for things. Just about anything.
The cast is really strong, and the show is often laugh-out-loud funny. Bell’s Eleanor is so callously shallow that Chidi has his work cut out for him as he tries to make her a better person, and Danson is terrific as Michael. Danson has come a long way since his days as Sam Malone on the classic NBC comedy CHEERS (1982 – 1993), and, while his more recent characters have mostly been supporting roles, (like here and in HBO’s BORED TO DEATH, 2009 – 2011), he’s been remarkably good at them, and the role of Michael is one of his best.
THE GOOD PLACE also ended its first season with some pretty major story twists. The second season just started, and the show seems to be having a little bit of trouble going in a slightly different direction as a results of these twists – but I’m confident it will gain momentum again and surprise us. It’s a refreshingly different kind of show, and I’m really enjoying it.
Oh, and yay for Kristen Bell. Unlike Sarah Marshall, I don’t want to forget her.
THE GOOD PLACE was created by Michael Schur, who has also given us such shows as BROOKLYN NINE-NINE and PARKS AND RECREATION (2009 – 2015), and who was a writer on the American version of THE OFFICE (2005 – 2007).
For fans of smart comedy, Kristen Bell (who’s probably most famous these days for her voice work on the movie FROZEN, 2013), Ted Danson, or any or all of the above, you should really check out THE GOOD PLACE.
(Airing Friday nights at 9pm EST on ABC)
I’ve only seen the two-hour premiere of the latest ABC adaptation of a Marvel comic book, and I have really mixed feelings. In the comics, the Inhumans first appeared as “guest stars” in the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby days of THE FANTASTIC FOUR, and were strange and compelling. They lived in a hidden city, and had unusual powers that were the result of being exposed to a gas called the Terrigen Mist. They weren’t born with powers like the mutant X-Men, but they had a genetic predisposition to the mist that would mutate them when exposed to it. Get it?
The main Inhumans make up the royal family of Attilan (that hidden city I mentioned, which is beneath a crater on the moon!). There’s Black Bolt (Anson Mount) who’s the king of Attilan, and whose power is that his voice can kill and cause incredible damage, like a super sonic boom, so he can’t speak. As we see in the TV show, even the smallest little grunt on his part causes some major destruction. His queen is Medusa (Serinda Swan), who has hair that is alive, moves, and can be used like extra hands and as a weapon. Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor), the head of palace security, has hoofed feet that he can stamp and create minor earthquakes. Karnak (Ken Leung) can determine the weakeness of any person or thing and use that to his advantage (he’s also a martial arts expert). And then there’s Crystal (Isabelle Cornish) a teenage princess who can control the elements. In the first two episodes we also briefly meet Triton, who has fins and can live underwater (Mike Moh).
As I mentioned earlier, at a certain age, all residents of Attilan are exposed to the Terrigen Mists and then find out “their power.” But not everyone is changed by the gas. Black Bolt’s brother, Maxiumus (Iwan Rheon, better known as Ramsey Campbell in GAME OF THRONES) is one such person who is just human, with no powers. Most of the human/non-super-powered residents of Attilan are forced to become the working class (mostly as miners who mine fuel to run the city), so there’s a definite caste system, which isn’t exactly fair.
In the TV series, the main plot is that Maximum is heading a rebellion and there’s a palace coup. He’s determined to take over, and the super-powered royal family must flee to Earth (Hawaii, to be exact). How they get to Earth is via a gigantic dog called Lockjaw, that can teleport and bring others with it. Lockjaw is the loyal pet of Crystal, by the way.
There are some problems with the series right from the get-go. Such as the fact that the Inhumans aren’t exactly the most sympathetic Marvel heroes. Black Bolt and his “gang” rule it over normal humans in a secret city. The powerless members of their society are pretty much their slaves. So when Maximus, who doesn’t have powers, decides to turn the tables on them, they aren’t exactly the most wonderful people to begin with, and kind of deserve what they get.
Then there are the character issues. Black Bolt (who has a more interesting but less functional costume in the comics) can’t speak, so it limits what the character can do onscreen. In the comics, he’s dramatic and regal, but here he doesn’t really work at first, when we meet him as ruler of Attilan. However, once he gets to Earth and tries to navigate an alien world without talking, things get a bit humorous, and Black Bolt actually becomes one of the more entertaining cast members, once he finally leaves the moon.
Then there’s Medusa, whose sentient hair is sheered off at one point. Is this even possible? If her hair is alive and moves, can it just be shaved off like regular human hair? Wouldn’t this be incredibly painful? But, once she gets to Earth, Medusa has a crew cut and is robbed of her powers. Not exactly the most exciting development for someone who’s all about her hair.
The other Inhumans aren’t as fully developed and will need time to grow more dimensions. Iwan Rheon is good as Maximus, but he seems a little confusing – is he a true bad guy who wants ultimate power, or is he just a slighted person who deserves to triumph over his oppressors? The show seems uncertain whether it wants him to be completely evil, or a force of long-overdue justice. Since his motivation is cloudy, Rheon doesn’t get to be as delightfully wicked as he was in GAME OF THRONES.
For a CGI creation, Lockjaw is well done and a definite plus here, and I wanted more of him. And Sonya Halmores is good as Maximus’s main ally and enforcer Auran, who is sent to Earth to kill the fugitive royal family.
There are also some Earth characters who will be interacting with the Inhumans as they try to get back to Attilan and reclaim their throne.
Before it aired, there was grumbling that Marvel’s INHUMANS wasn’t a very good show, and I can see that there are several problems, but the show does have potential, and I think it could improve a lot in the coming weeks. So, I’ll reserve judgment for now and continue to give it a chance.
One show that I’ve been loving lately is the HBO series THE DEUCE, about Times Square in the sleazy 1970s and the beginnings of the adult film industry. It stars the great James Franco as twin brothers, Frankie and Vincent Martino. Frankie is a degenerate gambler and Vincent is the more responsible brother who runs a bar for the mob and pays back Frankie’s debts. Maggie Gyllenhaal is Candy, a streetwalker who wants something more out of life. The supporting cast is really good as well. So far, it’s been building up the character development, and the characters haven’t got involved in the porn business yet, but it’s a damn interesting ride getting there.
This isn’t that surprising, since the show was created by David Simon and George Pelecanos, who also gave us the groundbreaking HBO series THE WIRE (2002 – 2008). I’ll probably talk more about this show as the season progresses. But if you can watch it, definitely give the show a try.
Season 2 of PREACHER (on AMC) just came to a close, and I loved it. I was a huge fan of the original comic book by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, but I have to admit I was a little disappointed with the first season of the TV version. It just seemed to meander and took the characters forever to get to the main thrust of the story – the idea that God is missing and the titular preacher Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) made it his job to track him down. Season 2 got more to the point, and was a helluva lot of fun in the process, especially with the introductions of two great characters from the comics, the Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish), a kind of demonic killing machine who looks like a cowboy and can’t be stopped (well, not permanently), and Herr Starr (Pip Torrens), the amoral, ruthless head of a secret organization called The Grail, which is directly involved in the Second Coming. Torrens as Starr was especially terrific, and very funny. I loved his take on the character.
With a great supporting cast that includes Joseph Gilgun as the vampire Cassidy (still my favorite character, along with Starr), Ruth Negga as Jesse’s very empowered girlfriend, Tulip, and Ian Colletti as the tragic character Arseface (who spent most of Season 2 in Hell). I’m sure some of the religious stuff ruffled people’s feathers, but the second season finally captured the anarchic feel of the comics, and I’m convinced this is going in the right direction now and might even get better in Season 3.
Well, that’s it for this installment of TV Transfusion. Don’t forget to stay hydrated, grab a cookie, and we’ll do more channel surfing together next time.
© Copyright 2017 by L.L. Soares